Max Ophuls’s Hollywood films from the late 1940s, including the noir feature The Reckless Moment, take disposability as a central problem. This essay argues that these films attribute an obdurate presence to objects, often foregrounding the dominance of clutter over the agency of characters. The films draw our attention as much to the gestures of stuff’s accumulation as they do to the frustrating impossibility of complete disposal. They depict throwing things away as an anxious activity with unstable parameters that threatens human agency and subjectivity. In the narrative space of these films, the burden of the capitalist world on human life can be felt, and in that feeling, these films gain a political—even ecological—inflection.
The Cinema of Disposal: Max Ophuls and Accumulation in America
karl schoonover is an associate professor of film and television studies at the University of Warwick. He is the coauthor of Queer Cinema in the World (Duke University Press, 2016), author of Brutal Vision: The Neorealist Body in Postwar Italian Cinema (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), and coeditor of Global Art Cinema (Oxford University Press, 2010). He is writing a book on cinema as a medium of waste management.